The Ritz-Carlton, Naples Beach Resort got an infusion of youth Nov. 12 from a group of attractive, orange-shirted Immokalee youngsters representing the community’s youthful high achievers. They were there to assist Louise Penta, her executive committee and staff of the Immokalee Foundation in carrying off the foundation’s gala, “Dream. Believe. Experience.”
Penta declared she “loves Immokalee and loves the kids” and says “all they want is a chance.”
Designed to help their dreams come true, this fundraiser preceded the Pro-Am Charity Classic chaired by Peter Negri and played at the Bay Colony course last Monday. During the pre-dinner reception, while bidding on silent auction items, guests had time for face-to-face chats with the youths. In the spotlight: high school seniors Jonathan Cantu and Ojette Bonhomme, the latter an Immokalee Readers tutor with dreams of becoming a medical caseworker. Jon had briefly studied at the Illinois Institute of Art and completed a three-week program at the Art Institute of Chicago. He had even designed Ojette’s glam attire, which he descirbed as “a little black dress revamped.”
Rather than dinner chimes, the 46-member Immokalee Middle School Choir serenaded the 350 attendees on their way to the ballroom. Self-appointed guides like Jesus Velazco, a 15-year-old in the Take Stock in Children scholarship program, led guests to their seats.
Backed by the choir, the Rev. Robert Tatman, a Benedictine monk and Ave Maria pastor, conducted the invocation, followed by a welcome from Penta and opening remarks by foundation board Chairman John Costigan and executive director Liz Allbritten. Featured student speaker was David Turrubiartez, a foundation scholarship holder at Edison State College, who was forthright in declaring his aspiration of becoming U.S. president, so attendees were smart to remember that name
The highlight of the festivities was the education programs-oriented “Fund a Dream” live auction conducted by auctioneer Scott Robertson working with board members Don Gunther and Dick Stonesifer who, with Penta, had developed the concept. Battling paddles — white, blue and orange with each representing ascending bids — flapped like bird wings as bidding progressed. Winning bids rose to a total of $460,000 on matching diamond drop earrings and a “Y” design necklace of more than eight carats from Bigham Jewelers; three lots of thrilling aviation experiences; an equestrian excursion in Ireland; and a tour of “Tonight” show host Jay Leno’s private auto collection in Beverly Hills.
While some had anticipated plastic cutlery and paper plates in view of the Fort Myers gasline disaster, the dinner was a smooth event. It didn’t hurt that Ritz vice president and managing director Ed Staros was among the attendees. Staros said he was “blessed” they “pulled it off,” following a planning meeting at 8:30 a.m. with his culinary professionals who perfectly executed alternative plans.
During the evening, Allbritten excitedly announced a surprise: a partnership donation from G.J. Hart, Texas Roadhouse CEO. During its April 2011 Ritz-Carlton Naples conference, 1,200 of the company’s “volunteer army” will devote an entire day to laboring on crucial Immokalee projects. This donation represents $2 million in materials, supplies and other expenses.
The net total raised through the Charity Classic Dinner & Auction and Pro-Am is $1.2 million which includes the Fund A Dream take, sponsorships and ticket sales at $550 per person. Presenting sponsor is Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and founding corporate sponsor Fifth Third Bank.